Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Angels Fans Wait, Wonder: Will Hamilton Produce?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Angels Fans Wait, Wonder: Will Hamilton Produce?

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES -- Josh Hamilton was scratched from the lineup Tuesday after hurting himself during batting practice at Dodger Stadium. He had back spasms and was not available off the bench.

It would have been easy to see this as symbolic, of age creeping up on Hamilton in the first season of his five-year, $125 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. But Hamilton is only a week past his 32nd birthday, and he actually has been quite durable. Tuesday's game was the first Hamilton has missed as an Angel; he had never gone so deep into a season before sitting out.

The age narrative, in Hamilton's case, can wait. The Angels might have been wiser to invest in pitching last winter -- their free- agent acquisition, Joe Blanton, fell to 1-8 with a loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday -- but Hamilton is younger than Albert Pujols and is signed for half as long. He should be a major force but has not been so quite yet.

"This is a growing process," Hamilton said Tuesday. "This is a learning process. It's been good for me, coming in and struggling, because guys get to see, hopefully, what kind of person I am, understand that I'm the same guy whether I'm going bad or going good."

Can the new guy be the same guy he was before -- not in temperament, but in production? That is the question for the Angels and Hamilton, as it is for all teams and their free agents.

Hamilton, an All-Star in all five of his seasons with the Texas Rangers, is hitting .219 with eight home runs, 18 runs batted in and a .283 on-base percentage for the Angels.

As the Rangers thrive without Hamilton -- led by an American League-best 3.48 earned run average -- the Angels are 25-29. Before losing twice at Dodger Stadium, though, they had won eight in a row. Hamilton hit .308 in those games, with three homers, six RBIs and a .438 on-base percentage.

"There's no doubt his at-bats have gotten better," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "His plate discipline is improving, all the things that add up to a good at-bat. And if you have good at-bats, as talented as he is, you're going to have success."

Hamilton, of course, needed years for his baseball talent to break free from his personal vulnerabilities.

Drug addiction cost him three seasons in the minor leagues, and he has twice relapsed publicly with alcohol. When the Angels signed Hamilton, they added his accountability partner in Texas, Shayne Kelley, as a special staff assistant.

Hamilton quit smokeless tobacco last summer, and after signing with the Angels he cited that as the reason he fizzled in the second half. He said his Angels teammates understand.

"They get it," Hamilton said. "They're grown men and I expect them to get it. I don't drink. I don't chew tobacco now, and they do the best they can to keep it out of my face. Sometimes I mess with them, like, 'Hey, man, I'm going to get a dip. …

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